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New Owners Looking to Reinvent Kitty's South: Is 1917 Theater Endangered?

Somewhere under the plaster is the Webber Theater's original facade.

The Webber Theater opened in 1917.

The vacant lot to the north of the former theater will be a separate project, according to developers.

The historic Webber Theater, better known as Kitty's South, has sat empty on South Broadway for close to a decade. New owners have a vision of an "epicurean" hub, but Baker business owners are concerned for its future.
In 2006, before the boutiques and chic eateries and galleries moved into Baker, Kitty's South was still projecting dirty movies the old-fashioned way: in a dark and creepy theater.

"Kitty's will be here forever," predicted 3 Kings Tavern and Mutiny Information Cafe co-owner Jim Norris at the time. "It's like the cockroaches. It'll outlast all of us."

Not so: The Internet proved a more-than-worthy competitor to the brick-and-mortar porno theater business model and Kitty's shut down in 2007.

The building, originally the Webber Theater, dates back to 1917 when Broadway was dotted with theaters through Baker. Norris describes the Depression-era version of the neighborhood as "the theater district for the poor people in town," noting that there's only one still in operation: the Mayan, which barely dodged a wrecking ball in 1984.

But the Webber saw its fortunes dip with the neighborhood and it became an X-rated venue by the time its peer two blocks north was spared. Now that Baker's on the rise, it sits on some pretty prime real estate. Now the building's new owners, Denver-based SourceRock Partners, want to transform it into a culinary center for the area, raising the hackles of locals that it might go the way of the Bronx, Hayloft and other bygone Baker theaters.

A social third space

"In a perfect world, I would love that it be restored to its former glory," says Nick Nunns, owner of TRVE Brewing, three blocks north of the Webber. He says he'd personally love the theater to become a "Bluebird-like" music venue, but adds, "We're not opposed to a business that's not perfectly aligned with us. We just don't want to see the building razed."

Despite for an application for non-historic status that's pasted on the front door, there are no plans for demolition, says Wade Murphy, a principal partner of SourceRock. "I don't know where those concerns came from," he says. "We don't want to be constrained to Kitty's structural facade."

While there are no plans to use it as a theater or music venue, Murphy says the project will preserve the sloping floor, scrape the plaster off the exterior and repair the roof and some fire damage. The adjacent, long-vacant corner lot, also SourceRock's property as of late summer 2015, "is going to be a totally separate project," says Murphy, without offering specifics.

"We're going to renovate it back to the original style," says Murphy. "We love the history of the building. We want the structural facade to get more in line with the neighborhood. We're using pictures of the old Webber as aesthetic and architectural guides."

Murphy was tight-lipped on exact details of his plans for the 7,000-square-foot space. "There are a few things we're trying to get permits for," he explains. "We're looking at putting an epicurean stamp on it."

Most of all, Murphy says he wants to be part of the Baker community and invites people to contact him to discuss the project. "We're looking to spend some time in the neighborhood talking to people about what we're doing."

Movie palaces like the Webber were "the social third space of the '20s and '30s," he adds. "We do want to honor that heritage."

But in the era of megaplexes and Netflix, purveyors of local food and drink have largely supplanted the silver screen. "It's going to be a place where people can put down their iPhones and connect," says Murphy.

Read more articles by Eric Peterson.

Eric is a Denver-based tech writer and guidebook wiz. Contact him here.
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